Grindcore is an extreme genre of music that originated in the early to mid-1980s. It draws inspiration from some of the most abrasive-sounding genres – including Hardcore Punk, Thrash Metal, Crust Punk, Industrial and Noise Rock. Grindcore is characterized by a noise-filled sound that uses heavily distorted, down-tuned guitars, grinding overdriven bass, high speed tempo, blast beats, and vocals which consist of growls and high-pitched shrieks. Early groups like Napalm Death are credited with laying the groundwork for the style. It is most prevalent today in North America and Europe, with popular contributors such as Brutal Truth and Nasum. Lyrical themes range from a primary focus on social and political concerns, to gory subject matter and black humor. A variety of “micro-genres” have subsequently emerged, often labeling bands according to traits that deviate from regular Grindcore, including Goregrind, focused on themes of gore, and Pornogrind, fixated on pornographic lyrical themes. Other offshoots include Noisegrind (especially raw and chaotic) and Cybergrind (incorporating electronic elements such as sampling and programmed drums). Although an influential phenomenon on Hardcore Punk and other popular genres, Grindcore itself remains an underground form of music.
Grindcore evolved as a blend of Thrash metal and Hardcore Punk. The name derives from the fact that grind is a British term for thrash; that term was appended to -core from hardcore. Grindcore relies on standard Hardcore Punk and Heavy Metal instrumentation : electric guitar, bass and drums. However, Grindcore alters the usual practices of Metal or Rock music in regard to song structure and tone. The vocal style is “ranging from high-pitched shrieks to low, throat-shredding growls and barks.” In some cases, no clear lyrics exist. Vocals may be used as merely an added sound effect, a common practice with bands such as the experimental Naked City.
A characteristic of some Grindcore songs is the “microsong,” lasting only a few seconds. In 2001, the Guinness Book of World Records awarded Brutal Truth the record for “Shortest Music Video” for 1994’s “Collateral Damage” (the song lasts four seconds). In 2007, the video for the Napalm Death song “You Suffer” set a new “Shortest Music Video” record : 1.3 seconds. Beyond the microsong, it is characteristic of Grindcore to have short songs in general; for example, Carcass’ debut album Reek of Putrefaction (1988) consists of 22 tracks with an average length of 1 minute and 48 seconds. It is also not uncommon for Grindcore albums to be very short when compared to other genres, usually consisting of a large tracklist but having a total length of only 15 to 20 minutes.
Many Grindcore groups experiment with down-tuned guitars. While the vinyl A-side of Napalm Death’s debut, 1987’s Scum, is set to standard tuning, on side B, the guitars are tuned down 2½ steps. Their second album From Enslavement to Obliteration and the Mentally Murdered EP were tuned to C?. Harmony Corruption, their third full-length album, was tuned up to a D. Bolt Thrower went further, dropping 3½ steps down (A). Bass is tuned low as well, and is often distorted.
The Blast Beat is a drum beat characteristic of Grindcore in all its forms, although its usage predates the genre itself, as it is native to jazz. In Adam MacGregor’s definition, “the blast-beat generally comprises a repeated, sixteenth-note figure played at a very fast tempo, and divided uniformly among the kick drum, snare and ride, crash, or hi-hat cymbal.” Blast beats have been described as “maniacal percussive explosions, less about rhythm per second than sheer sonic violence.” Napalm Death coined the term, though this style of drumming had previously been practiced by others.
Daniel Ekeroth argues that the blast beat was first performed by the Swedish group Asocial on their 1982 demo. D.R.I. (“No Sense”), S.O.D. (“Milk”), Sarcófago (“Satanas”), Sepultura (“Antichrist”) and Repulsion also included the technique prior to Napalm Death’s emergence. According to some sources, it was LARM that first used the blast beat. LARM and Napalm Death became bands around the same time.
Grindcore lyrics are typically provocative. A number of Grindcore musicians are committed to political and ethical causes, generally leaning towards the far left in connection to Grindcore’s punk roots. For example, Napalm Death’s songs address a variety of anarchist concerns, in the tradition of Anarcho-Punk. These themes include anti-racism, feminism, anti-militarism and anti-capitalism. Other Grindcore groups, such as Cattle Decapitation and Carcass, have expressed disgust with human behavior, animal abuse and are, in some cases, vegetarians or vegans. Carcass’ work in particular is often identified as the origin of the Goregrind style, which is devoted to “bodily” themes. Groups that shift their bodily focus to sexual matters, such as Gut and the Meat Shits, are sometimes referred to as Pornogrind. Seth Putnam’s lyrics are notorious for their black comedy, while The Locust tends toward satirical collage, indebted to William S. Burroughs’ cut-up method.
The early Grindcore scene relied on an international network of tape trading and DIY production. The most widely acknowledged precursors of the Grindcore sound are Siege, a Hardcore Punk group and Repulsion, an early Death Metal outfit. Siege, from Weymouth, Massachusetts, were influenced by classic American Hardcore (Minor Threat, Black Flag, Void) and by British groups like Discharge, Venom and Motörhead. Siege’s goal was maximum velocity : “We would listen to the fastest Punk and Hardcore bands we could find and say, ‘Okay, we’re gonna deliberately write something that is faster than them'”, drummer Robert Williams recalled.
Repulsion is often credited with inventing the classic Grind Blast Beat (played at 190 bpm), as well as its distinctive bass tone. Shane Embury, in particular, advocates the band as the origin of Napalm Death’s later innovations. Kevin Sharp of Brutal Truth declares that “Horrified was and still is the defining core of what Grind became; a perfect mix of Hardcore Punk with Metallic gore, speed and distortion.”
Other groups in the British Grindcore scene, such as Heresy and Unseen Terror, have emphasized the influence of American Hardcore Punk, including Septic Death, as well as Swedish D-beat. Sore Throat cites Discharge, Disorder and a variety of European D-beat and Thrash Metal groups, including Hellhammer and American Hardcore groups, such as Poison Idea and DRI. Japanese Hardcore, particularly GISM, is also mentioned by a number of originators of the style. Other key groups cited by current and former members of Napalm Death as formative influences include Discharge, Amebix, Throbbing Gristle and the aforementioned Dirty Rotten Imbeciles. Post-Punk, such as Killing Joke and Joy Division, was also cited as an influence on early Napalm Death.
Grindcore, as such, was developed during the mid-1980s in the United Kingdom by Napalm Death, a group who emerged from the Anarcho-Punk scene in Birmingham, England. While their first recordings were in the vein of Crass, they eventually became associated with Crust Punk. The group began to take on increasing elements of Thrashcore, Post-Punk and Power Electronics. The group also went through many changes in personnel. A major shift in style took place after Mick Harris became the group’s drummer. Punk historian Ian Glasper indicates that “For several months gob-smacked audiences weren’t sure whether Napalm Death were actually a serious band any longer, such was the undeniable novelty of their hyper-speed new drummer.” Albert Mudrian’s research suggests that the name ‘Grindcore’ was coined by Harris. When asked about coming up with the term, Harris said:
“Grindcore came from ‘grind’, which was the only word I could use to describe Swans after buying their first record in ’84. Then with this new Hardcore movement that started to really blossom in ’85, I thought “grind” really fit because of the speed so I started to call it Grindcore.”
Other sources contradict Harris’ claim. In a Spin magazine article written about the genre, Steven Blush declares that “the man often credited” for dubbing the style Grindcore was Shane Embury, Napalm Death’s bassist since 1987. Embury offers his own account of how the Grindcore “sound” came to be :
“As far as how this whole sound got started, we were really into Celtic Frost, Siege – which is a Hardcore band from Boston – a lot of Hardcore and Death Metal bands and some Industrial-noise bands like the early Swans. So, we just created a mesh of all those things. It’s just everything going at a hundred miles per hour, basically.”
Napalm Death’s seismic impact inspired other British Grindcore groups in the 1980s, among them Extreme Noise Terror, Carcass and Sore Throat. Extreme Noise Terror, from Ipswich, formed in 1984. With the goal of becoming “the most extreme Hardcore Punk band of all time,” the group took Mick Harris from Napalm Death in 1987. Ian Glasper describes the group as “pissed-off hateful noise with its roots somewhere between early Discharge and Disorder, with [vocalists] Dean [Jones] and Phil [Vane] pushing their trademark vocal extremity to its absolute limit.” In 1991, the group collaborated with the Acid House group The KLF, appearing onstage with the group at the Brit Awards in 1992.
Carcass released Reek of Putrefaction in 1988, which John Peel declared his favorite album of the year despite its very poor production. The band’s focus on gore and anatomical decay, lyrically and in sleeve artwork, inspired the Goregrind sub-genre. Sore Throat, said by Ian Glasper to have taken “perhaps the most uncompromisingly anti-music stance” were inspired by Crust Punk as well as Industrial music. Some listeners, such as Digby Pearson, considered them to be simply an in-joke or parody of Grindcore.
In the subsequent decade, two pioneers of the style became increasingly commercially viable. According to Nielsen Soundscan, Napalm Death sold 367,654 units between May 1991 and November 2003, while Carcass sold 220,374 units in the same period. The inclusion of Napalm Death’s “Twist the Knife (Slowly)” on the Mortal Kombat soundtrack brought the band much greater visibility, as the compilation scored a Top 10 position in the Billboard 200 chart and went platinum in less than a year. The originators of the style have expressed some ambivalence regarding the subsequent popularity of Grindcore.
North American Grindcore
Journalist Kevin Stewart-Panko argues that the American Grindcore of the 1990s borrowed from three sources: British Grindcore, the American precursors and Death Metal. As early Napalm Death albums were not widely distributed in the United States, American groups tended to take inspiration from later works, such as Harmony Corruption. American groups also often employ riffs taken from crossover Thrash or Thrash Metal. Early American grind practitioners included Terrorizer and Assück. Anal Cunt, a particularly dissonant group who lacked a bass player, were also particularly influential. Their style was sometimes referred to as “Noisecore” or “Noisegrind”, described by Giulio of Cripple Bastards as “the most anti-musical and nihilistic face of Extreme music at that time.” Brutal Truth was a groundbreaking group in the American scene at the beginning of the 1990s.
Discordance Axis had a more technical style of playing than many of the predecessors and had a much more ornate visual and production style. Scott Hull is prominent in the contemporary Grindcore scene, through his participation in Pig Destroyer and Agoraphobic Nosebleed. ANb’s Frozen Corpse Stuffed with Dope has been described as “the Paul’s Boutique of Grindcore”, by Village Voice critic Phil Freeman, for its “hyper-referential, impossibly dense barrage of samples, blast beats, answering machine messages and incomprehensibly bellowed rants.” Pig Destroyer is inspired by Thrash Metal, such as Dark Angel and Slayer, the Sludge Metal of The Melvins and Grindcore practiced by Brutal Truth, while Agoraphobic Nosebleed takes cues from Thrashcore and Powerviolence, like D.R.I. and Crossed Out. Pig Destroyer’s style is sometimes referred to as “Deathgrind“, because of the prevalence of Death Metal influences, as are Cattle Decapitation.
The Locust, from San Diego, also take inspiration from Powerviolence (Crossed Out, Dropdead), first-wave Screamo (Angel Hair), obscure Experimental Rock (Art Bears, Renaldo and the Loaf) and Death Metal. The Locust were sometimes described as “Hipster Grind” because of their fan base and fashion choices. In Los Angeles, Hole also initially drew influence from Grindcore in their early releases, particularly on their singles “Dicknail” and “Teenage Whore”, as well as on their debut album, Pretty on the Inside (1991), all of which featured sexually provocative and violent lyrics, as well as the heavy distortion and fluctuating tempo that distinguished the genre. Frontwoman Courtney Love stated that she wanted to capture the distinguishing elements of Grindcore while incorporating more pop-based melodic structure, although the band distanced themselves from the style in their later releases.
Other later prominent Grindcore groups of North America include Brujeria, Soilent Green, Cephalic Carnage, Impetigo and Circle of Dead Children. Fuck the Facts, a Canadian group, practice classic Grindcore, characterized by the “metronome-precision drumming and riffing [that] abound, as well as vocal screams and growls” by AllMusic reviewer Greg Prato.
Continental European Grindcore
European groups, such as Agathocles, from Belgium, Patareni, of Croatia and Fear of God, from Switzerland, are important early practitioners of the style. Filthy Christians, who signed to Earache Records in 1989, introduced the style in Sweden, D.D.T. & Fear of Dog were pioneering Grind & Noise in Serbia since mid-end of ’80, Extreme Smoke 57 in Slovenia at the early beginning of the ’90, while Cripple Bastards established Italian Grindcore. Giulio of Cripple Bastards asserts that the name itself took some time to migrate from Britain, with the style being referred to as “Death-Thrashcore” for a time in Europe. Nasum, who emerged from the Swedish Death Metal scene, became a popular group, addressing political topics from a personal perspective.
Other Swedish groups, such as General Surgery and Regurgitate, practiced Goregrind. Inhume, from the Netherlands, Rotten Sound, from Finland and Leng Tch’e, from Belgium, were subsequent European groups who practiced Grindcore with Death Metal inflections. In 2000s, the Belgium-based Aborted “had grown into the role of key contributors to the Death-Grind genres”.
Influence on other Genres
Powerviolence – Powerviolence is a raw and dissonant sub-genre of Hardcore Punk. The style is closely related to Thrashcore and similar to Grindcore. While Powerviolence took inspiration from Napalm Death and other early grind bands, powerviolence groups avoided elements of Heavy Metal. Its nascent form was pioneered in the late 1980s in the music of hardcore punk band Infest, who mixed youth crew hardcore elements with noisier, sludgier qualities of Lärm and Siege. The microgenre solidified into its most commonly recognized form in the early 1990s, with the sounds of bands such as Man Is the Bastard, Crossed Out, No Comment and Manpig.
Powerviolence bands focus on speed, brevity, bizarre timing breakdowns and constant tempo changes. Powerviolence songs are often very short; it is not uncommon for some to last less than 30 seconds. Some groups, particularly Man Is the Bastard, took influence from Sludge Metal and Noise Music. Lyrically and conceptually, Powerviolence groups were very raw and underproduced, both sonically and in their packaging. Some groups (Man Is the Bastard and Dropdead) took influence from Anarcho-Punk and Crust Punk, emphasizing animal rights and anti-militarism. The Locust and Agoraphobic Nosebleed later reincorporated elements of Powerviolence into Grindcore.
Industrial and Electronic music – Among other influences, Napalm Death took impetus from the Industrial music scene. Subsequently, Napalm Death’s former guitarist, Justin Broadrick, went on to a career in Industrial Metal with Godflesh. Mick Harris, in his post-Napalm Death project, Scorn, briefly experimented with the style. Scorn also worked in the Industrial Hip Hop and Isolationist styles. Fear Factory have also cited debts to the genre. Digital Hardcore is an initially German hybrid of Hardcore Punk and Hardcore Techno. Agoraphobic Nosebleed and the Locust have solicited remixes from Digital Hardcore producers and Noise musicians. James Plotkin, Dave Witte and Speedranch participated in the Phantomsmasher project, which melds Grindcore and Digital Hardcore. Alec Empire collaborated with Justin Broadrick, on the first Curse of the Golden Vampire album and with Gabe Serbian, of the Locust, live in Japan. Japanoise icon Merzbow also participated in the Empire/Serbian show.
The 21st century also saw the development of “Electrogrind” (or “Cybergrind”), practiced by The Berzerker, Body Hammer, Gigantic Brain and Genghis Tron which borrows from Electronic music. These groups built on the work of Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Enemy Soil and The Locust, as well as Industrial metal. The Berzerker also appropriated the distorted Roland TR-909 kick drums of Gabber producers. Many later Electrogrind groups were caricatured for their hipster connections.
Mathcore – In the mid-1990s, Mathcore groups such as The Dillinger Escape Plan, Some Girls and Daughters began to take inspiration from developments in Grindcore. These groups also include elements of Post-Hardcore. In addition to Mathcore some early Screamo groups, like Circle Takes the Square and Orchid, have been associated with Grindcore by some commentators.